I find myself in a strange position. At the outset of the Mali crisis I felt that the worst possible scenario was France getting involved on its own. After 7 months of abject inertia on Mali, the international community through the UN and the USA finally truly kicked Mali into touch till September this year when it announced that no international action would happen until then.

Did this stance embolden Iyad Ag Ghaly, the great strategist and leader of one of the groups, Ansar Dine, to decide to make a quick push west from their frontline of Douentza to Konna just 90kms from Mopti? He seemed to have been after Sevare airport. If the islamists had takenthe airport it would have meant the only airstrip to land troops being 600kms away in Bamako. Iyad, and the islamists would have been in a very powerful position with 8 months to go before the world was going to wake up. 

France seized the moment. It seems they saw that Ag Ghaly had made a strategic blunder. Or had he been lulled into a trap? News started coming in that all the jihadists from Timbuktu and Gao had come south towards Konna. They were out of the towns and had a long way back. So France stepped in, quickly mobilised special troops – serious hard nuts who were based in Chad – and aircarft. 

It seems they are attacking the front line and picking off retreating fighters. They have attacked in Gao, Kidal, Lere, Konna. 

And back in the towns – Timbuktu and Gao – there remain only footsoldiers and signs of desertions already. It’s is hard to verify, but I am being told by Tuareg in Burkina that they are hearing that people are smoking in the streets of Timbuktu.

Many seem to buying the AQMI line that France have opened the gates of hell on themselves. At the moment it looks more like the islamists may well have trapped themselves in no man’s land, and it isn’t at all clear that they have a route out now. Algeria, who hitherto have been stalling on any international involvement in Mali (principally because this would take control from them) seem to working in partnership with France. If so, perhaps the Algeria have decided to cut their ties to the islamist groups and wash their hands of them now. I hope so.

The only way to begin to work towards a lasting peace to the Mali crisis is to eliminate these phoney islamists. Only then can a resolution to Mali’s constitutional crisis begin to be a Malian solution for Mali’s problem. With the foreign islamists in the picture any negotiation which many have advocated would have meant negotiating Mali’s future with foreign and unwanted islamist fighters.

I feel that there is too much made about these islamists strength and jihadist intentions. I’ve never felt they were nearly as strong as the UN and US have made them out to be. They’ve been handed their strength on a plate. Until the crisis happened – and it wasnt they who launched it, they were opportunists on the back of the MNLA led Tuareg rebellion – very little anti-western jihadist rehetoric had comme out from these guys. And they have never been battle tested. There may be a few Mujahadine who have come in now, but their rank and file are footsoldiers who have had not much choice but to join up. 

If French troops can cause a serious dent in the leadership and the main jihadists – and they’ve already dented a good 10% – we may be watching a turkey shoot and a cake walk.